Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby discuss the current crisis in Israel and Palestine in the context of 75 years of violence, occupation, protest and resistance. They conclude that equal human rights for all is the only basis on which sustainable peace and shared security can be built.

Andrew: This most recent outbreak of violence in Jerusalem and yet another Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip seems particularly serious.

Looking back over recent days we have to recognise that  the persistent attempts to cleanse East Jerusalem neighbourhoods like Sheikh Jarrah of their Palestinian residents is nothing new. I remember back in 2012 we interviewed an Israeli Jewish activist who had helped launch the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement in 2009. He was so committed to Israelis and Palestinians struggling together to achieve their vision of equal rights for all. I recall you saying that this was a microcosm of the kind of society where you would be happy to live – people acting together, inspired by a vision of shared security.

But over the past decade the Israeli government’s commitment to increase the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem has intensified, including persistent efforts to expropriate Palestinian homes in neighbourhoods like Silwan. In 2013 we interviewed a Palestinian activist in Silwan, and afterwards you expressed your dismay and your fear that if the trends continued, then Silwan would become like the old city of Hebron – with areas such as Shuhada Street barred to Palestinians. So I can see that this persistent pressure, the unrelenting threat to the security of the Palestinian residents of such neighbourhoods as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, is the backdrop to the current violent clashes – but why now?

Marwan:  Yes – but you also have to factor in the arrogance of the Israeli government that believes it can act with impunity, without being held to account. East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967 and the continuous ethnic cleansing conducted by the Israeli government is a blatant violation of international law.

Also, remember that whenever [Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu faces a threat to his political position he engenders a crisis. As it stands he faces the risk of conviction on corruption charges if he fails to hold on to his position as prime minister.  How else can you explain the manner in which Israel has acted over the last few weeks?  Last month, at the beginning of Ramadan, Israeli police erected barriers to control access to Al-Aqsa Mosque. With tensions aroused by the threat to evict hundreds of Palestinian residents from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem’s young Palestinians protested and there were repeated clashes.

Emotions were further aroused when the police blocked the main highway into Jerusalem from the west in an attempt to prevent Palestinian Muslim citizens of Israel – including ten coaches from my home-town of Umm All Fahem – from worshipping at Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Night of Destiny, the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Then came the final incendiary action. On Monday (10 May 2021), the Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa compound, where thousands of worshippers had gathered, fearing encroachment by right-wing Israeli nationalists who had planned a march through the Old City to celebrate Jerusalem Day and the unification of the city in the 1967 war. Three hundred Palestinians and twenty-one Israeli officers were wounded. To quote Amira Hass from Ha’aretz, “for historical and political reasons, not just religious and aesthetic ones, the Dome of the Rock has become a high-profile Islamic symbol and the entire compound a universal heritage site. And Israel spits on it.”

Hamas had been threatening for weeks to respond with force to what it described as Israeli provocations in Jerusalem. On Monday, angered by the raid on Al-Aqsa, Hamas and its allies in Gaza made good on that promise, and began launching rockets into Israel. Israel retaliated with a fierce military offensive and we are back in the old retaliatory cycle of military assault and the destruction of civilian lives.

Andrew:  Arrogance and a sense of impunity – it reminds me of a passage in Raja Shehada’s book, Going Home. He reflects on the challenge he faces of trying to retain his humanity after enduring over fifty years of living under Israeli occupation. One of his conclusions is that, whilst Palestinians have not won, they have brought Israel to self-destruct:

“The country that occupied us half a century ago bears little resemblance to the Israel of today. By forcing them to justify the unjustifiable, that which is patently illegal, we have helped them destroy their legal system and, through their open discrimination, the rule of law and respect for international law. We have also helped destroy the socialist aspects of their system by providing them with cheap labour. We have certainly not won, but neither have they.”

Raja Shehada, Going Home: A Walk Through Fifty Years of Occupation (2020), p.155.

 Marwan: Yes.  As the rockets fell on Israel and missiles rained down on the Gaza Strip, the tension spread from Jerusalem, with reports of communal violence erupting in Israeli cities. It reminds us once again that you cannot create your own security at the cost of the well-being of your neighbours.

When Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz promises to continue the attacks on the Gaza Strip in order to “bring complete quiet for the long term” we know he is deluded, unless he seeks the quiet of the graveyard!

Of one thing we are certain, military might is not the answer to Israel’s security problems, especially when it comes to Jerusalem. There are around two billion Muslims in the world, for whom Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa are pivotal to their sense of identity. It is not as if Israel’s actions can be contained within its borders. They have global implications.

The persistent assault on the human rights of Palestinians throughout the Israeli-controlled territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean has led Human Rights Watch to conclude that it is “committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution”.

The only way this recurring cycle of violence, death and destruction can be halted is by the Israeli state respecting the basic rights of all those living within the territory it controls.

Andrew:  I am reminded of an old Israeli peace activist I first met in the early 1980s, Toma Sik. He had no time for national liberation movements such as the PLO. His commitment and mantra was equal human rights for all as the only basis for a sustainable peace. He died in 2004 but his prophetic voice stays with me.

Marwan: Yes. The only basis for a genuine peace is equality and freedom for all the inhabitants of this land – and it is becoming increasingly clear that this struggle is one that concerns us all, wherever we live.

Marwan Darweish and Andrew Rigby are the authors of Popular Protest in Palestine: The Uncertain Future of Unarmed Resistance (Pluto Press, 2015).

Andrew Rigby is Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies (Coventry University, UK). He has spent most of his professional career teaching peace studies in different locations and institutions, an activity informed by his deep commitment to nonviolence as practice and principle. He has researched and written on Palestine for over 30 years.

The views and opinions expressed in posts on the Rethinking Security blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the network and its broader membership.

Photo Credit: Image of Jerusalem by RJA1988 from Pixabay.